Top 14 Things to Know About Rabies in Dogs

dog allergies in chandler, azWhat to Know About Dog Rabies

Thanks to French scientist Louis Pasteur, who discovered the first successful vaccine for rabies in the late 1800s, the likelihood of your dog contracting the rabies virus in the United States is low. And since most states (except Minnesota, Kansas and Ohio) require all dogs to be vaccinated for rabies by law, those rates are even lower. However, low doesn’t mean impossible, so here are the most important things to know about rabies in dogs. Read through them and if you still have questions, call the Animal Medical Center of Chandler at (480) 339-0406.

  1. Rabies is usually transmitted through the bite of an infected animal. However, it can also be transferred if the saliva, brain or nervous tissue of an infected animal comes in close contact with an open wound, mouth, nose or eyes. In rarer cases, the scratch of an infected animal could result in infection. Contact with an infected animal’s urine, feces or blood does not pose a risk. The rabies virus is noninfectious when dry or exposed to sunlight.
  2. Rabies is a zoonotic disease, meaning it affects animals and humans. It is only seen in mammals, and has never been seen in birds, reptiles or fish.
  3. While rabies can be treated successfully in humans, there is no treatment for a dog who has contracted rabies, and nearly 100% of cases result in fatality.
  4. The time period between infections and manifestation of symptoms varies. The closer the bite is to the brain or spinal cord, the quicker the virus will travel to the nervous tissue. If the bite is severe, more of the virus is transmitted via the infect animal’s saliva, which increases the viral load and accelerates symptoms. The incubation period for rabies is between ten days to over a year, but in dogs the average incubation period is between two week and four months.
  5. There are two clinical stages of rabies in dogs, and the final stage shows in two possible ways.
    • The prodromal, or first phase of rabies in dogs lasts about two to three days. In this stage, there is a marked change in the dog’s temperament. Agitation and nervousness will be visible in even the calmest of dogs.
    • Following stage one, a dog may enter the stage clinically known as furious rabies. The dog becomes aggressive and extremely volatile. Their appetites are voracious, leading to ingestion of garbage, grass, dirt and even rocks. Paralysis begins in this stage, making it difficult to eat or drink. Eventually, the dog will begin having seizures and pass away. This form is more often seen in wild animals.
    • The more common second phase of rabies seen in dogs is known as dumb rabies. Here the dog will experience a progression of limb paralysis, facial distortions and difficulty swallowing. The dog will eventually become comatose and pass away.
  6. Once clinical signs show, the infected animal will usually die within five days.
  7. An infected animal can only pass on the rabies virus once clinical signs have started showing.
  8. There is no way to diagnose rabies in dogs except by examination of the brain tissue. This means the infected animal must be deceased before any diagnosis can be 100% confirmed.
  9. Prevention is the best medicine and when it comes to rabies in dogs, it’s the only medicine proven to stop rabies.
  10. According to the law, dogs must receive their first rabies vaccine by fourteen weeks of age, which then must be followed up with a booster when they are twelve months old. The current rabies vaccine for dogs is viable for three years, at which time your dog will require another rabies vaccination. Some states, however, require the rabies vaccine be given annually.
  11. Keeping up with the required rabies vaccine laws in your state doesn’t just keep your dog safe from the bite of another animal, it keeps your dog safe in the even he bites a person. If your dog bites a human and you cannot prove that she’s up to date on her rabies vaccine, the law may require a ten-day quarantine for your dog, or even euthanasia so his brain tissue can be examined for signs of rabies.
  12. You can also keep your dog safe from contracting rabies by avoiding contact with wild animals. About 100 dogs contract rabies through the bite from an infected wild animal a year in the United States.
  13. The most common wild animals that contract and pass on rabies are raccoons, which make up for about 35% of all animal rabies cases in the United States, however the Center for Disease Control has stated that bats pose the greatest danger of passing on the rabies virus. Skunks, coyotes, foxes and feral cats are also known transmitters of the disease. Opossums and rodents are less likely to have rabies but could still pose a threat.
  14. If your dog is bitten by a wild animal, it is imperative that you thoroughly scrub the wound with soap and water, iodine or 40-70% alcohol right away. Call your veterinarian immediately if you suspect your dog has been bitten by a wild animal.
  15. Though found on every continent besides Antarctica, the rate of rabies infections has dropped dramatically in the United States since the start of mass vaccination of dogs in 1947. Cases of rabies in domestic animals spiked to nearly 10,000 a year between the 1930s and 1940s, however now there are less than one hundred cases reported annually for dogs and under two hundred fifty for cats.